Happy 30th birthday, IETF: The engineers who made the ‘net happen article tells that (now few days more than) thirty years ago today, 16 January 1986, the Internet Engineering Task Force – IETF – was born at a meeting in San Diego. It was humble beginnings and the organization that is more responsible than any other for turning a research project into a viable global communications network boasted an initial attendance of just 21 people. You can still read the minutes of that first meeting.
When we speak of The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF®), we speak to key techies, men and women, who shaped our online world. As engineers they were focused on protocol development, stabilization and network performance. They did pretty good job in their development. It is a fact that few ever really consider: the internet grew faster than any technology has ever grown in the history of man and yet it never failed, faltered or fell over. In 1986, there were a few thousand hosts in the Internet, and today there are over three billion users, many of them using mobile devices.
To make this all happen, it required a completely new type of organization – and culture – to make it happen. David Clark: “We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.” That combination of a refusal to accept hierarchy or traditional structures combined with a sardonic sense of humor is what enabled the IETF to do its job.Connection to running code, open standards and transparent, evolving processes have been foundations for the IETF and the Internet over the past 30 years. This approach – independent funding, hands-off control and inertia-trust arrangements – prevented either governments or corporations from seizing control of the internet’s development.
In celebration at hitting this milestone, the chair of the IETF, Jari Arkko, wrote a blog post:
Looking ahead from today, it seems impossible to forecast with any certainty what the Internet will look like 30 years into the future. Yet, in the nearer term, we know that billions more people will be connected around the world over the next few years…
Much work is needed to bring about these changes. There will also be challenges, such as privacy of our communications or interoperability in new applications. The Internet is also used in even more diverse environments and applications, and developed in diverse ways, such in open source projects. Technology evolution needs people who understand these environments!